By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
With four nonconference victories, the Minnesota State men’s basketball team has nearly erased the bad memories of a seven-win season.
There have been two home victories against overmatched teams and two road wins against solid Division II programs. But you can’t get a proper read on this Mavericks team until it starts playing games in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
That begins Saturday with Concordia-St. Paul, the Mavericks’ new travel partner in the two-division Northern Sun.
The Mavericks certainly have shown more talent and depth than last year, when the roster was essentially at eight for the final games.
Minnesota State has shown the ability to use 10 guys, and so far, there have been four different leading scorers, which will be a theme this season. Any of the 10 could be the top scorer in any game, depending on the matchup, and there are eight players averaging between 7 and 13 points.
Depth is good, though it remains to be seen if this team has a player — such as a Jefferson Mason or a Marcus Hill — who can and will make the tough shot at the end of a game.
The Mavericks are big, led by center Assem Marei, who showed some signs of life in the win over Mount Marty on Saturday. But even when he’s not in the game, Zach Romashko and Connor O’Brien can handle the paint, offensively and defensively.
Point guard Zach Monaghan probably has been the biggest surprise, averaging 10.5 points, 6.3 assists and 2.0 steals. He seems to know how to run a team and control the tempo, and he’s already the best alley-oop passer in at least the last 20 years of Minnesota State basketball.
Jarvis Williams might be the go-to guy in clutch situations. The team’s only senior has shown a nice mix of mid-range jumper and attacking the basket, averaging a team-best 13.0 points and 7.8 rebounds. Gage Wooten is another player who has quietly been effective, averaging 9.0 points and 3.8 rebounds and shooting 55.6 percent from the field. He’s also shown a lot of toughness and savvy for a first-year player in the program.
There isn’t much dropoff when Jaymeson Moten, Lucas Brown and Jimmy Whitehead come into the game.
Much like football, the strongest division for men’s basketball will be the South, with Minnesota State, Augustana, Southwest Minnesota State and Winona State. The Mavericks will ge tested by each of those programs in the first six league games.
The Mavericks will be better than last season; they almost have to be. But how much better?
The signs look good now, but we’ll have a better idea in about four weeks.
Chad Courrier is a Free Press staff writer. To contact him, call 507-344-6353, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out his local sports blog at www.mankatofreepress.com or follow his Twitter feed @ChadCourrier.